Mining has been an done on Earth since humans realized the potential of metals and non-metals in improving the quality of their lives. However, mining has taken humongous proportions since the industrial age. The uses of mined materials, ranging from metals to radioactive elements to coal and petroleum, has expanded into fields that were previously untapped. If you think about it, most of the things around you has some quantity of mined material in it (look around and see for yourself). If you tell me that paper has nothing mined, then think about how paper is made. It’s made using machines, that are made of….metals. Indirectly or directly, they rule our world.
But in a universe where karma seems to play it’s part everywhere, you’d expect it to play a part here as well. You are not wrong. Mining has resulted in huge side effects that has affected, more than anything else, the environment and the health of the workers in those mines. That is why, mining has received extreme backlash in recent years. It’s activities are highly regulated, and EIA is mandatory for mining in almost all countries.
Here are some of the major impacts that mining has on the environment-
- First of all, mining requires us to clear huge areas of land. More often than not, this land is forest land. Mining is one of the major causes of deforestation, among industrial activities. The area is completely deforested, and it takes decades or even centuries for any vegetation to grow back over there.
- Miners, while preparing for mining, excavate huge amounts of land from the area. Precious topsoil, that took thousands of years to form, is wasted in this way. It is one of the reasons why it takes vegetation centuries to grow back in a minespoil.
- When mining is being established, it requires transportation facilities as well. Roads are often built right through forested areas. This causes serious habitat fragmentation. I’ve written about the dangers of habitat fragmentation before.
- The mine area was once the habitat to a wide variety of life forms. This ranges from microbes to large animals. They all die, and that habitat is lost forever. The ecosystem comes to a crashing halt.
- Mining has a loud by-product; literally. Mining and associated activities cause huge amount of noise pollution.
- It also causes massive air pollution by sending clouds of dust and unburnt particles into the air. Apart from affecting the life of humans and other animals in the area, this dust can coat the leaves of what trees remain in the area. They can no longer undergo photosynthesis.
- The waste products of mining, called mine-spoils are simply left in their place after mining is finished. This, among other things, cause serious environmental contamination. The waste products can enter waterways and the groundwater, and pollute water resources of many people around the area. If the wastes contain toxic chemicals, it can enter into the food chain through biomagnification. In the end, many, many diseases are caused because of careless disposal.
- The land after mining (also called mine-spoil, because it is a waste product), is simply left barren. It cannot be used for any other purpose in that state anymore.
These are not reasons to completely stop mining. I understand that this is an activity based on which our entire lives revolve. But this environmental degradation can be avoided by simply being aware of the impacts and mitigating them smartly. It’s one of the reasons EIA has become compulsory over the course of the last few years. However, it is important that mining be avoided if alternatives exist. A case in point is the Carmichael coal mines.